Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Rape culture shows up in court (again)

When it comes to rape and sexual assault cases (and domestic violence, for that matter), victim blaming in a courtroom is nothing new. I think we're all pretty much aware of the typical tactics: why were you dressed that way, how much had you been drinking, why did you get in his car, why were you out alone, but you aren't that hurt physically, did you enjoy it, and on and on.

A judge in Ohio may have just taken the cake for victim blaming in a court. Cuyahoga Juvenile Court Judge Alison Floyd has ordered four teenage girls, who are victims of sexual assault, to take polygraph tests. These are four separate cases, and the defendants had already been found guilty. I cannot come up with one reason a judge would order sexual assault victims to take a polygraph test after the defendants have been found guilty by that very judge.

Do judges often order or request polygraph tests in any cases? And can you imagine if your car were stolen and then a judge asked you to take a polygraph test about it? Rape, sexual assault and domestic violence victims are the only crime victims blamed for what happened to them, and it has to stop. If you leave your car unlocked with the windows down and keys in the ignition and it gets stolen, maybe someone in the courtroom would comment on that. But stolen is stolen, and if the person/people who stole the car is found and put on trial, the only thing up for debate is did they steal the car. Not what you, the car owner, did to make them steal the car, or indicate they could steal the car. Because, you see, stealing is wrong, and society is in agreement on that. The jury, so to speak, is still out on the wrongness of rape and sexual assault. How else would it be possible for a judge to ask for sexual assault victims to take a polygraph test?

The story, reported by the Cleveland Plain Dealer, says the judge also asked the defendants to take polygraph tests, before she issued the sentencing. It's not clear when she asked the victims to take the test, but let's assume it was at the same time she asked the defendants. Would that mean she would take the polygraph results into account when sentencing the defendants, the very defendants she already found guilty? None of this makes any sense to me, so if someone has a thought or legal opinion on this, please do share it with the class.

So far none of the victims have taken the test. I hope they don't. I'm in full agreement with the mother of one of the victims, who said, "I believe even more damage was done by the judge letting the perpetrator know she was ordering the victim to take the polygraph. He apparently took this to mean the judge did not believe her and he used this to tell their peers that the judge did not believe her and was ordering her take a lie detector test. It felt like the blame was back on her and she was being victimized, by not only him [again], but by the system as well."

The judge and the judge's office has, so far, not responded to any press requests. I hope she does, because I'm really interested in hearing what she has to say to explain her actions.

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